June 3, 2002


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Varsha Bhosle

That dreaded TINA factor

Distance lends perspective. Keeping that in mind, I'm willing to believe that Indian Navy personnel cruising the seas, or better yet, ensconced in their armchairs post-retirement, develop a hard-nosed and detached approach to wars fought on land. I'm willing to accept that career sailors, be they midshipmen or former admirals, totally empathise with the steadily bleeding jawans who've been facing bullets in glacial temperatures day in and... well, year in and year out. I even accept that high rhetoric has raised our thirst for revenge to a fever pitch. However, what I do not understand is, why does a former Chief of Naval Staff make public statements like:

  • In fact, India will be a major loser if it resorts to any military misadventure.
  • Unlike 1971, India lacks sympathy and international support for its cause.
  • India's cozying up with Israel these past few years has lost it support among the oil-producing countries.
  • Well, we called their bluff once with disastrous results (re. Pakistan's nuclear tests).
  • Pakistan had an edge over India in both the accuracy and quality of delivery systems (re. an "impartial reporter's" comparisons).
  • Whatever goodwill India had in the world community has dissipated subsequent to the happenings in Gujarat.

I ain't questioning the basis of these statements - yet. All may well be true. Hell, Praful Bidwai and gang have been going hammer and sickle about it non-stop. Thing is, such fringe lunatics are taken with a bagful of salt by anyone aware of his/her country's defence exigencies; but when an admiral says the same, it is noticed. Therefore, I question the ethics involved in a former CNS's publishing such during an extremely delicate moment when India is seeking to convince the world of her grim determination to halt jihadi infiltration. After all, only the real threat of war can shake our masters to haul ass and do what we really want - ie, help us win the war without our fighting a war.

I don't understand: for whom was the article, Towards an unwinnable war, written? Is it a paper meant for circulation among think tanks? Is it for shaping the opinions of NRIs? Is it for motivating the Nagpur reader to force the government to de-escalate? Or is it for the benefit of our friendly neighbourhood ISI surfer...? Beats me. Which is why I ask again, what are the ethics -- not "rules" -- in a former naval chief's lending his military designation to an "analysis" that does nothing but harm the country he once served?

I'm all the more baffled since the Admiral wrote in December 2001: "Fortunately for India, the nation is today blessed with astute military leaders... and Army chief Gen S Padmanabhan's retort that he will not be stampeded into foolish action are extremely reassuring. Rhetoric may be suitable for public consumption and for winning an election, but it cannot be a substitute for cold appraisal and a sensible appreciation of the situation."

May I remind the Admiral that it is the COAS himself who said in May, "The time for action has come. But the Army is not the body to make decision in this regard. The decision will be taken by the entire nation." In January: "If we have to go to war, jolly good." And: "The more we talk, the less we will act. We should not play to the gallery any more. As far as I am concerned, I'm ready for any kind of action." And: "We are ready for a second strike" And: "When you talk of a sufficiency of nuclear weapons, take it from me, we have enough."

So, within 6 months, has the "astute" Gen Padmanabhan degenerated into a jingoistic vote-monger? And is that because his words may lead to events that could incinerate a certain comfortable armchair in Pune...?

When Mrs G had asked Gen Maneckshaw to march into East Pakistan in the summer of 1971, the General "refused to be browbeaten by the political leadership. He demanded and got six months to organise his forces, to make up the deficiencies in weapons and equipment, and to deploy his divisions." So wrote the Admiral in December... Today, our COAS is straining at the bit and the PM is holding him back! Besides, hasn't George had enough time to prepare since Kargil? Ask the CAG!

Here's a bit from The Economic Times of May 31: "India has plugged the chinks in its military armour even as diplomatic efforts to avert a confrontation with Pakistan continue apace. Hectic shopping by defence teams in the global arms bazaar has seen the government successfully sourcing UAVs, hand-held thermal imagers, night vision devices and weapon locating radars. A fast-track mechanism put in place by PM Vajpayee has been clearing purchase orders at a breakneck speed and has brought to the armed forces equipment that they always longed for." And from Jane's: "It is estimated that India probably has between 50 and 150 nuclear warheads available. Analysis from some sources suggests that there is sufficient weapons grade uranium and plutonium available to India to build more warheads."

Exactly how much time is required for our forces to rise to the standards set by our nay-sayers? Nobody ever tells us that. Methinks, they envision our troops riding in air-conditioned tanks à la the US Army. Ain't gonna happen. We just have to do with what we got and that's that.

Incidentally, has the Admiral given a thought to the number of "accidental" fires and blasts in ordnance depots in Shakurbasti, Bhopal, Bikaner, Jabalpur, etc, etc? Has he measured the damage in terms of the ammunition, money and time lost? Does he know that, at least in 2 cases, ISI agents and their Indian jihadis were arrested for links to the "accidents"? Does he really believe that without a decisive war, Pakistan will stop...? If so, he's a candidate for LaLa Land.

Actually, the rest of the reasons are an eyewash - it's all about dem nukes and dat armchair. For instance, what "sympathy" and "international support" did India have in 1971...? Didn't Nixon send the Seventh Fleet into the Bay of Bengal? And this was because the redoubtable Mrs G refused to give the US an assurance that India would not attack Pakistan. Yes, it's an "unfinished business," all right.

Frankly, I've no clue why people count nuclear warheads and delivery systems - who's going to be around to fire the fourth or fifth?? Even so, I do want to know which "impartial reporter" said that Pakistan was better off than India. The last I heard of it was from Brigadier Vijai K Nair in the August issue of Strategic Affairs. About Pakistan's nuclear capabilities outstripping India's, he wrote, "at the very best, this report can only be described as garbage. For reasons best known to the Pentagon, it appears to be part of a badly thought out 'disinformation' plot to meet the psychological requirements of maintaining a semblance of balance of power in the region and also enable Gen Zinni's Southern Command to maintain control within its theatre of operations."

Next, what "disastrous results" accrued from our calling Pakistan's bluff? According to the Admiral, "within a month of our nuclear explosions the other side had shown us theirs." THAT'S the disaster?! Like, Pakistan was sitting peacefully and yet, just weeks later, as Abdul Qadeer Khan said, "Pakistan has now the complete know-how of the long-range missile, including engineering, designing, manufacturing and assembly" and would carry out a nuclear test "within no time." Like, the Indian test was the impetus for the Na Dong route to nukedom...

Ya, let's talk about the "support" of our friends, the oil-producing countries. During the 1999 hijacking crisis, neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE came to our aid. The Saudi cabinet discussed it on December 29, but didn't issue even a statement after the meeting, and the UAE denied our ambassador access to the airbase while the hijacked aircraft was parked in Dubai. Even as Riyadh talked about building a "special relationship" with India, our home ministry and intelligence wings fretted over dubious Saudi funding activities here. Furthermore, the OIC, since its inception, has never failed to "reaffirm its support to Kashmiris' right to self-determination" and say that "sham polls could not be a substitute for a free and impartial plebiscite in the disputed Kashmiri territory." (BTW, have you guys seen the MORI International poll? The "majority in J&K want to remain as Indians," hehehe...)

Ergo, what "support"? It's the Israelis who've come to our assistance by providing critical weaponry, including the UAVs - even at the cost of invoking US ire. It's the Israelis who've said that India can count on them even for man-power in anti-terrorism ops. Sure, that's a thorn in the Arabs' sides, but do remember, a seller ain't worth shit without a buyer. Besides which, the world ain't the same since 9/11.

Oh ya, Gujarat... LOL, that's a right honourable zinger - one geared to draw the wavering centrists into the pacifist folds. By "centrists," I mean Indians who are horrified by the murders of Hindus in Godhra and Muslims in Naroda-Patia, and who are neither leftists nor BJP supporters - but all of whom are thirsting to settle scores for Kaluchak and countless other slaughters by Paki jihadis. What better an evocation can there be to link the mayhem in Gujarat to bloodshed at the frontiers...? After all, it was done by the Chief Mohajir himself in his latest version of truth. Not to forget Elle Duce's wringing the last drops from the ignominy: "The NDA government has failed to crush the internal and external forces trying to destabilise the country and PM Vajpayee was holidaying at Manali when the nation was threatened by clouds of war and Gujarat reeling under communal violence."

The chattering classes can and will go on and on about Gujarat - in India. But the fact is, Arafat and Musharraf have booted out Gujarat from the front pages all around the world. As Stephen Robinson wrote in The Telegraph, "Arundhati Roy has watched the nuclear stand-off over Kashmir with a growing sense of despair, partly because it has distracted international attention from the ruling BJP's connivance in the recent Gujarat massacres of Muslims." Sure, Amnesty International made a studied appearance at a crucial juncture... but, when does it not??

Except for the usual doomsday wailers, support for and understanding of the government's strategy has cut through ideological barriers:

  • Finally, the option we adopt could range from dialogue resumption, to diplomatic offensive, to economic squeeze, to war. But that option should be of our choosing. If the Americans don't like it, that's their problem - Outlook's Vinod Mehta!
  • Indeed the time for India to take punitive military action against Pakistan is now - Vice-COAS Gen (retd) VK Sood.
  • Given developing circumstances, there does not seem to be any alternative to act decisively in operational terms against Pakistan's activities in J&K - JN Dixit!
  • The more realistic the threat of war in this case, the more likely it is that it will be averted. If that happens, thank the BJP for once - Indian Express' Shekhar Gupta!
  • If a war does break out in South Asia this summer - and even if it does not go nuclear - many thousands of Indian lives will be lost... It will not be a glamorous Top Gun-kind of war. But at least it will be a genuine war against terror - Hindustan Times' Vir Sanghvi!

Nobody really wants a war. And, the blind hatred nursed by Pakis won't allow a "limited" war. Everyone's hoping that our maay-baaps will clamp down hard on Pakistan. But if that doesn't happen - and it won't - all that remains is the TINA factor - there is no alternative. India will *not* cede Jammu & Kashmir, and Pakistan will not shed its imagined right over it. Meaning, "bilateral dialogue" is a non-starter. The bitch of it is, through it all, Pakistan will continue to bleed us - in J&K, in the northeast, in Gujarat, in Maharashtra... Perhaps that's Ok for the Admiral. But it's NOT Ok for Lt Gen Satish Nambiar, and it's not Ok for the rest of us.

And yes, before some doofus pipes up, let me say this: Bruce Reidel, in a strategically timed "leak" - which strengthened the scenario of a nuclear exchange in the subcontinent - wrote, "One well-informed assessment concluded that a Pakistani strike on just one Indian city, Bombay, with a small bomb would kill between 150,000 and 850,000 alone." It goes without saying that India's financial capital will be targeted first, and Bhosle could well be the first to fry. But you know what, I don't really like my armchair all that much, I'd rather my neck be incinerated held high.

Varsha Bhosle

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